[Ads-l] Is There a Scow in Moscow?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Dec 30 16:55:35 EST 2016

On 12/30/2016 12:43 PM, Baker, John wrote:
> I heard someone on NPR this morning pronounce the name of the Russian capital with the final vowel sound heard in scow, cow, and brow.  I usually pronounce it with the final vowel sound heard in low, snow, and tow.  Resorting to the native pronunciation is no use, since Muscovites use the name Москва́, typically transliterated and pronounced as "Moskva."
> There seems to be a diversity of opinion on the issue.  I looked at some of the dictionaries and other sources linked by Onelook.com.  The following favor the "cow" pronunciation (* means that the "oh" pronunciation is also given as an alternative):  Oxford (North American English)*; American Heritage*; Wiktionary (U.S.)*; Webster's New World; Free Dictionary*.
> However, the following favor the "oh" pronunciation (with * meaning that "cow" is given as an alternative):  Merriam-Webster*; Oxford (British & World English); Collins; Wiktionary (received pronunciation); Wordsmyth*; Infoplease*; Dictionary.com*; Wikipedia*; Rhymezone; thefreedictionary.com.
> This seems to suggest that I can get away with using either pronunciation in the U.S., although I had better use "oh" when traveling abroad, but I still would be interested in others' thoughts on this.

I say /kau/ or so rhyming with "cow"/"how". I think I hear this and also 
/kou/ or so with "tow"/"low" rhyme, but I wouldn't notice the difference 

As for a dictionary 'favoring' one pronunciation or the other when 
showing both, I'm not sure showing one or the other first necessarily 
means anything; I think this order depends on the dictionary (it might 
reflect judged 'correctness', or estimated frequency, or the order might 
in isolation be arbitrary or of no specific meaning) (one might check 
the explanatory notes in the particular dictionary). My MW3 shows the 
"cow" rhyme first, BTW.

As for traveling abroad, it seems to me that different languages have 
different usual pronunciations, e.g., German with /kau/ or so, French 
and Spanish with /ku/ or so, Italian with /ka/ or so. I doubt any very 
frequent US pronunciation would be a problem for UK or other speakers of 
English (but I don't know that I've performed the experiment).

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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